What is Depression?
Depression refers to a specific change in mood. Mood is an emotional state. Mood and emotion differ in that emotions tend to be more intense in nature often triggered by an external stimulus. Moods on the other hand are a more pervasive and subjective internal states less specific than emotion. Depressed moods are often perceived by certain behaviors and affect, or how an individual reacts to stimulus from the outside world.
Normal versus Pathologic
Depression is a normal reaction to certain life experiences and from specific situations. Sleep deprivation has been proven to result in feels of depression in clinical studies. Major life change from loss such as a death of a loved one or loss of employment usually results in an expected transient depressed mood. Persistent depression unrelated to specific environmental conditions is called – major depression – and may represent a medical disorder.
Symptoms of Depression
Feeling depression may include some or all of the following symptoms:
- Feeling of sadness, hopelessness or helplessness
- Low self-esteem, feeling of worthlessness
- Feeling guilty
- Irritability, short temper
- Decreased enjoyment in usually enjoyable activities and things
- Suicidal thoughts
- Change in appetite or weight
- Decreased interest in sex
- Moving or talking more slowly
- Unexplained pain
- Change in sleep patterns
- Decreased performance at work
- Conflict at home
- Spending less time with friends or hobbies
Recent surveys reveal that ten percent of all people in America take prescribed anti-depressant medication. That translates to over 30 million people. Many take more than one medication.
Avoid or Minimize Alcohol
Many people reach for a drink when their having a bad day. The more bad days, the more regular alcohol use becomes. Few realize how much alcohol negatively contributes to mood. The reason alcohol is a common self-medication is that it is initially a stimulant and produces a mild euphoria. After an hour or so the effects reverse and it becomes a central nervous system depressant. People tend to drink more, hoping to recover the initial positive effects only to become more depressed.
Daily alcohol intake can by itself lead to depression. One study revealed that of healthy subjects (not depressed by testing) that were given small daily amounts of alcohol, 40% scored in the depressed range on re-testing after a few weeks. After the alcohol was discontinued, the findings were reversed.
In addition alcohol can increase impulsivity and decrease self-control. It can increase thoughts of suicide. The physical effects of daily alcohol intake including headache, stomach upset, decreased appetite and muscle pain can increase depressive states. All non-prescribed drugs and alcohol must be discontinued before any diagnosis or treatment of depression is considered.
It is commonly accepted that depression has an organic cause based in the neurotransmitters and receptors in the brain. For some it may be under or overproduction of certain bio-active chemicals or genetic variances in the brain receptors for those chemicals. Lay people refer to it as a “chemical imbalance.” There have been several naturally occurring plants that affect those chemicals or receptors and have been studied extensively.
- St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) gained national attention several years ago as a treatment for depression. Extensive research supports its use in mild to moderate depression. It increases sensitivity to GABA receptors.
- Rhodiola rosea (Crassulaceae) is a plant that grows in the northern hemisphere in colder climates. The sap from its roots has been used to improve mood. It also helps the body recover from various forms of stress and is considered an “adaptogen,” a natural substance that promotes homeostasis.
- Ginkgo biloba also known as The Maidenhair tree is well known to improve memory. It has two chemicals that work by dilating blood vessels increasing blood supply to the brain, and another that has direct stabilizing effects on nerves. In addition to memory, Ginkgo biloba improves mood by the same mechanisms.
- Schisandra has been called “Chinese Prozac.” The berries from this plant produce an extract that supports adrenal gland function. The adrenal glands are a major producer of cortisol, the stress hormone. Adrenal balance is critical to maintain mood.
Do Some Exercise
The last thing anyone with depression wants to do is exercise. If you are able to start some regular physical activity, it will stimulate endogenous endorphins. Endorphins are opioid chemicals produced by the adrenal and the pituitary glands that act as neurotransmitters. It is what produces the “runner’s high” experienced by distance joggers. It takes very little to initiate the production of these powerful compounds. Once started, they self-perpetuate desire to continue the activity that makes them. In addition, as the body strengthens a positive feedback loop increases mood. Commit to taking a short walk at the same time every day. Join an aerobics or spinning group. The association with others will be beneficial too. Start out small and in no time the effects will create the desire to continue and increase the activity. Don’t think about exercising every day, just exercise today, the rest will follow.
Take Dietary Supplements
In order for the body to produce enough of the chemicals required for all of its required functions, the building blocks of the compounds must be available. Today’s modern diet it often lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables. The meals that we do eat often have valuable nutrients processed out. This combined with the fact that with depression appetite is often suppressed can lead to nutritional deficits. Certain supplements have been used to increase overall health and specifically to improve mood.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids are well known for their positive effects on cholesterol metabolism. Several studies have suggested that increased intake also improves mood. They are found in abundance in fish, particularly salmon, cod liver oil and in pill form.
- Tryptophan is an essential amino acid and a step in the production of serotonin, an important neurotransmitter that controls mood. Soy beans, poultry, and fish contain high amounts of natural tryptophan.
- Vitamin B12 deficiency is very common. It is readily available in red meats, however; an enzyme produced in the GI tract called intrinsic factor is commonly lost due to age or genetics. This results in the B12 not bring absorbed. When B12 deficiency is severe it causes pernicious anemia. Early on, subclinical symptoms of B12 deficiency commonly include changes in mood. Taking more B12 by mouth still requires intrinsic factor to absorb it so supplements should be taken sublingually (under the tongue) or by injection. Additional oral B12 will likely pass through unabsorbed. A simple blood test can diagnose B12 deficiency.
- Magnesium and Calcium are essential electrolytes that facilitate nerve impulses. Low circulating levels can cause muscle cramps, fatigue, insomnia and depression. Magnesium is found in green leafy vegetables, nuts and bean and fish. Calcium is abundant in dairy; yogurt is an excellent source as well as green leafy vegetables, nuts and fish.
Socialization Can Be A Cure
Social withdrawal is one of the symptoms of depression. Unfortunately it is one of the self-perpetuating symptoms that increase depressive feelings. Longevity studies show that those who continue interacting with family, friends and community live the longest. Social isolation shortens lifespan and increases depressed mood. It is not necessary to participate in a social activity, simple be present. Go to church and sit in the back. Go out to eat a meal. Find a lecture to attend or go to a movie, even by going alone there will be exposure to others. Depressive symptoms are decreased when we are reminded that we are not alone, that we are all part of a bigger picture.
If possible volunteer at a hospital or nursing home. Helping others is excellent therapy to minimize depression. Alone our thoughts obsess on our own problems and feelings and allow depressive thoughts room to expand. Helping others replaces those obsessive thoughts of self with the positive influence of providing a service to others.
If you don’t think interaction with other people is possible, get a pet or volunteer at a pet shelter. Studies have shown people with pets have lower blood pressure, sleep better and have improved mood. Taking care of a pet is a good first step to taking care of yourself.
For symptoms of mild depression try these natural remedies before going to the doctor. A medical professional is almost obligated to start prescription medications. If symptoms persist or become more severe, seek medical attention. If there are any suicidal thoughts don’t wait, get professional help immediately.